Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts

Sacred Sins

By Nora Roberts

293 pages

Published by Bantam Books (2010 edition)

I felt a sort of mild satisfaction when my hunch about who was the serial killer in this novel turned out to be right from the very beginning 😌. Sacred Sins is a romance thriller centred around the mysterious killings of several women in Washington, D.C. by a murderer nicknamed The Priest.

The victims all died of strangulation with a priest’s amice cloth, and the bodies were all found with a note saying that her sins had been forgiven. None of the victims were sexually assaulted or robbed, and their backgrounds had nothing in common to indicate any pattern or why they were chosen by the same killer. All in all, the killer had obviously treated all his victims with respect for he had also took the pains to arrange the body neatly as if in a ritual, and also ensure that her clothes look tidy. Eventually the press had decided to call the serial killer “The Priest”.

Detective Ben Paris had been involved in the investigations of the murders, and he was becoming frustrated when he still failed to find any breakthrough after several cases. After the third death, the mayor insisted the police to work with a psychiatrist who may be able to help them find a lead by investigating the workings of a psychopath killer’s mind.

Though doubtful about a psychiatrist’s ability, Ben found himself unwillingly attracted to the Dr Teresa Court – and vice versa. When they soon realized that the killer had targeted only blond white women who were in their late 20s – they became aware that Dr Tess could be the next victim, for she too fell into that physical description perfectly. Ben found himself beginning to worry about Tess’s safety and had vowed to personally protect her in any way he could.

After the fourth murder took place, the killer had called Tess to tell her that the fourth victim had been a mistake. He admitted going out to actually find Tess, but had killed poor Anne Reasoner instead. With that, it was clear that he had been targeting Tess and would not stop until he got her.


With such obvious threat, the police began to tighten security on Tess: she had the police following her around covertly and her home and office phone were tapped so the police could obtain direct information whenever the suspect called her again. Ben even volunteered to move into Tess’s home to keep her safe especially at night, when the murderer could be on the prowl.

In the meantime, on Tess’s recommendation, the police had consulted a Monsignor Logan, who was not only a priest but also a psychiatric medicine practitioner. Logan was familiar with Catholic practices and ritual, thus he was able to give a more detailed insight about the murder cases from a religious angle. True to expectation, Logan had, with his expertise, managed to establish another pattern in the killings: all the murders had taken place on dates significant in the Church calendar, such as The Assumption and the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Logan had checked the calendar and assumed that the next murder would not take place until December eighth, on the day of The Immaculate Conception. And the next date would most probably be a date reserved for Tess. Despite having several more weeks before the expected date of the next murder, the police kept their routine of ensuring Tess’s security.

On December eight – the day the murder was supposed to take place – Tess was kept at home for the whole day while the police squad took turns staking out at her house. Towards the end of the day, the officer on duty at the moment, Louis Roderick called her home and informed Tess that Ben and his partner Ed had caught the suspect. Apparently there had been a scuffle and Ben had been injured, but basically it was now safe as The Priest had been arrested.

Tess was determined to make sure Ben was okay, so she went out of the house to the hospital, hoping to see Ben there. Instead, Tess found Detective Roderick at the deserted hospital car park – with an amice in his hands. It was Roderick all those times, killing the innocent unsuspecting women. As he was also in the force – and was assigned in the task force of The Priest killings – he had been one step ahead of the police. Roderick had taken his chance during his turn staking out Tess’s home by luring her outdoors with false news about the murderer’s arrest and Ben’s injury.

Fortunately, in a timely manner, Monsignor Logan had shared with Ben a very important breakthrough – he discovered a man who used to be a seminarian in the local parish but had left after his twin sister died of a failed abortion. The man had been treated with schizophrenia before, and his mother had also been previously confined in an institution. The man could be the murder suspect. And the man was Louis Roderick.

Upon hearing Roderick’s name, the police went into a frenzy when they realized that it was Roderick’s turn to supposedly guard Tess. Detective Lowenstein, whose turn ended when Roderick took over, realized that Roderick had gotten her, too, when she did not check with headquarters to verify what Roderick had told her and Tess about the suspect being arrested.

Luckily, Tess had managed to inform Lowenstein about her going to the hospital, so the police squad knew that they should immediately dispatch to the hospital to neutralize Roderick.

When the police arrived, they found Tess trying to put a brave front by talking to Roderick. Roderick had already wrapped the amice around Tess’s neck, but he had not begun to strangle her yet. As a psychiatrist, Tess had tried stalling the time by slow-talking with Roderick about the state of his mind. Roderick was mentally unstable and he did want help, but he was too confused to see a psychiatrist to seek help. So when Tess tried to talk to him like a psychiatrist does to a patient, Roderick became docile. He eventually surrendered sedately to the police without any fight.

Roderick had a twin sister named Laura, and Laura had died of a failed abortion. Being devout Christians, Roderick believed Laura had died in sin. Roderick’s psychotic mother used to remind him that as twins, his and Laura’s souls were intertwined, and so if Laura is damned, so will he. As an aspiring priest, his mother’s words had pushed Roderick on edge and he was too worried about being damned.

Soon Roderick began to hear voices telling him to kill women that looked like Laura and then perform the absolution rites upon their deaths to symbolize Laura’s salvation. In the twisted mind of Roderick, he was not committing a crime but merely sacrificing the women to safe Laura’s soul. And he had selected Tess as his final victim because he knew as a psychiatrist, Tess understood his mind and could finally stop him. Although she had been very frightened, Tess was determined to take Roderick as a patient and help treat his demented mind.


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